Because I was starved for mental scintillation during the lockdown, I invited a group of people to join me in making an art collective. We've been chatting and laughing and throwing prompts into Google docs, riffing on each other's writing and photos and art. It has been a spark in the storm. One of my arting partners, who is also an educator of the most beautiful heart and the most delightful wickedness and joy, has been sending us pictures of moonsnail shells that she has been collecting on the now-deserted beaches of Prince Edward Island. She also introduced me to the word SONDER.

This piece is a rumination on sonder, and seemed apropos to the worksheet about walking posted today, and our discussions about embodiment, connection, community and being human. I think our online worlds have invited us to consider more than ever the brilliant and complex lives that are happening on the other side of the screen, and how intricately our experience connects us, as learners, as human beings. We are being asked to see each other differently. Walking the same paths every day of lockdown, I am learning to see the familiar in new ways.

SONDER/MOONSNAILS

“Sonder.  n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness” (John Koenig, Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows)

Running that same curve of road again and again, a bit crazy with month after month of pacing the same distance through the same angles and arcs of sound, I stop looking at the trees on the side of the road and start looking at the trees--alder, willow, cottonwood, aspen, fir, pine, hemlock, birch, wild rose--and there’s a sudden internal slosh of vertigo. The trees cease to be a screen and become a window. I see into[1]  the forest, the slow shifting of angles of it as I move. Suddenly, like a Magic Eye picture that resolves from geometry to Wayne Gretsky or a unicorn, outside becomes an inside. And I know that all the animals who have ever disappeared from my view, slipping from headlights into invisibility, have moved inside their own worlds where their anatomy is the landscape in motion.

I remember footprints in the grainy snow of the frozen lake[2] , boots on the way out, paws on the way back. A story there, at the vanishing point.

I remember hoofprints in the snow, a moose who had impossibly passed between two aspens[3]  a foot apart. But then I remember that the two aspens are actually one aspen, under the ground, in the ancient rhizome, and impossibility dissolves into a way of being that only looks like magic because I don’t really know how to see.

As I run on through the blue wash of the pump and into the gravelly red turbulence of a riding lawnmower’s grumble one road over, I wonder if these aspen will shape themselves around these sounds like they do around a fallen trunk, accommodating lawnmowers and pumps and mumbling grass and running shoes on sealcoat and the pinpricks of windchimes. David Haskell says that the London Plane Trees that line the streets of Brooklyn record the passage of subway trains in the woody structure of their cells. If you were to make a violin from their wood--you wouldn’t, he says, because these trees are full of staples from lost dog posters and ads for guitar lessons--the music would resonate with the sound of the city[4] .

I imagine the Plane Trees humming an intricate tune about the millions of people in the trenches below them, in the rhizome-filaments of rails [5] and stations and jobs and to-do lists, the travelers hanging from the safety rail by hands they’ve forgotten, the strangers trying not to lean together on the seats, their bags between their feet.

I watch the aspens who are knitted together underground and think of the travelers on the New York subway, the ones whose eyes are half-closed with rememberwhen, who are looking inwardly at the small green Island they went to once, that one beach where there were moonsnail shells that are now in a bowl by the door with the keys and a half-roll of Lifesavers.

I run on and think of empty shells murmuring in blue voices the rememberwhen of the ocean that is the rush of the blood in our ears.


(The sudden depth of the forest is a low cello sound, an ochery thrum that moves from right to left at the level of my sternum, lying flat like a becalmed ocean stretching from my heart to a far horizon)    

(the hiss of wind across ice is a silver scintillation in the extreme foreground.)    

(Trembling aspens are a yellow peppering like castanets, but far off, as though there is a party going on in a plaza around the corner. Grasses and fading Solomon’s Seal and new fireweed, bearberry and huckleberry murmur together at the feet of the clone forest, but their greens are quietly ecstatic, like arms raised in the rain, custard-yellow cones rising into the black velvet sky).    

(My memories of New York, the ambient roar of it, sit behind my shoulders in the black velvet landscape and rise up in a weirdly phosphorescent curtain like a fountain in reverse).    

(Any repetitive sound, like train wheels on track seams, becomes a rotating column at the periphery of the visual field, sometimes vaned like a high-tech windmill, usually, but not always, rotating counter-clockwise.)